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Last year marked a pivotal moment in terms of keyless room technology, as Starwood, Hilton, Marriott, and other brands announced investments in the mobile tech. And while there is consumer uptake, this still feels like a transitional technology that has us asking: What's next?

Keyless hotel room entry — basically using your smartphone as your hotel room key — has come a long way.

Since marking its debut in fall 2014 with Starwood’s SPG Keyless, the mobile technology has now been adopted by others, including Hilton and Marriott, while also being piloted by Hyatt and InterContinental Hotels Group at the moment.

On June 28, Starwood’s Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program announced the expansion of SPG Keyless beyond the company’s Aloft, Element and W Hotels brands to select Le Meridien, Westin, Sheraton, and Four Points by Sheraton properties around the world. SPG is also making it easier for multiple guests sharing the same hotel room to be able to use SPG Keyless and is planning more updates to mobile check-in features via the SPG app in the coming months.

To date, the SPG Keyless technology is available at more than 160 hotels in 30 different countries, with more than 350,000 registered SPG members who have registered for the technology, most of whom are SPG Platinum members. To use SPG Keyless, guests need to have an SPG account and have access to the SPG app on their smartphones. The program began with just 10 hotels in November 2014. Starwood says the most popular cities for the technology are New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Miami.

The impetus behind keyless room entry adoption is all about giving guests more control over their stays and often works in tandem with mobile check-in capabilities. An added benefit is streamlining the check-in process and eliminating the need for front desk check-ins, as well.

Alyssa Waxenberg, VP of mobile at Starwood Hotels & Resorts, said in a release, “SPG Keyless is literally opening doors for SPG members. It is also transformative for Starwood’s hotel associates, allowing them to better-engage with guests. Rather than the first interaction being the swipe of a credit card, hotel associates can now focus on ways to better-personalize guests’ stays.”

Updates on Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt and IHG’s Keyless Entry Plans

Like Starwood, Hilton also started rolling out its digital room key technology in 2014. Called Digital Key, it’s now available in 275 Hilton properties in the U.S. and Hilton plans to expand the tech to nearly 600 by year’s end. Similar to Starwood’s SPG Keyless, Hilton’s Digital Key requires users to have a Hilton HHonors loyalty membership and have the Hilton HHonors app downloaded on their smartphones.

Hilton said that since launching Digital Key, nearly three out of four loyalty members who use digital check-in have also requested Digital Key and those travelers who use Digital Key are more likely to rate their “efficiency of arrival” almost 10 percentage points higher than those who use traditional check-in. Leisure travelers who use Digital Key also rate their overall hotel experience 5 percentage points higher than those who use traditional check-in.

Last year, both Marriott and InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) began testing out keyless room entry technology at a few select properties. IHG didn’t have any new updates to share about its testing of mobile room keys. Marriott said mobile key technology is in use at 16 Marriott hotels and will roll out across Marriott’s Millennial-friendly Moxy Hotels brand. It also noted that additional rollouts are planned this year.

Hyatt Hotels has also dabbled in this space, and a spokesperson for the company said, the company has completed a variety of prototypes for guests to access their rooms, including Wi-Fi enabled airport shuttles that print keys while guests are en route to the hotel to smartphone-enabled door keys, which are available at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco, Hyatt Regency Bellevue, and Hyatt Regency Savannah.

However, a company spokesperson said, testing has shown that digital room keys may not always be the right solution:

“While we are finding that mobile keys are helpful for some guests, they’re not the solution for all. In fact, we know that mobile keys aren’t for traveling families, particularly with young ones prone to dropping phones in the pool. So while our approach will include mobile key for those properties that fit, we are also pursuing functionality that allows travelers to print their keys at a quick key-dispensing terminal with a QR code from their app, something already in place at Hyatt Regency New Orleans and others.”

The Future of Keyless Entry at Hotels

Adopting this new hotel tech wasn’t necessarily smooth sailing for Starwood and, as Hyatt’s example points out, it’s not necessarily for all travelers. Still, it’s likely SPG and other hotel brands’ pioneering moves in this space will pay off in the future.

Why? Because the technological infrastructure it’s built upon can serve as a centerpiece of hotel technology moving forward. So, what’s next for keyless entry?

Brian Shedd, VP of sales and marketing for OpenKey, a turnkey mobile key app provider, said he sees the evolution of keyless entry expanding to the point where the technology is no longer brand-specific as it is now. He said OpenKey is offering a sort of “skeleton key” for the mobile key business whereby guests can use the technology at a variety of hotel brands, regardless of the different technologies or locks with each brand.

“It’s the evolution of mobile key from an independent brand perspective, which is, ‘Let’s create a product that consumers can use if they are in a Hilton hotel’ to ‘Let’s create a product that consumers can use regardless of whatever hotel they are in,'” Shedd said. “Consumers want fewer than more apps on their phone. They want one app that works across multiple hotels instead of nine different apps for nine different hotels.”

As hotel technology evolves, too, Shedd believes it will stem from the guest’s own smartphone.

“I think mobile key technology will evolve as the entire guest experience evolves from a digital standpoint at hotels,” Shedd added. “Hotel guests want more self-directed experiences. They want to be able to leverage technology to accomplish things that they don’t need to stand in a line or interact with other people to achieve. Hotel technology is going to evolve more and more to the point where your smartphone is your experiential gateway at the hotel for anything you would want to do, like change the TV channel, or temperature, reserve a tee time or restaurant reservation, check in, check out, access your room. Anything you can think of — any experience you’re going to want to engage in at a hotel or resort, you’re going to be able to access that experience through your smartphone.”

To Shedd’s credit, we’ve seen glimpses of that evolution already.

Last week, for example, Starwood announced a new pilot program at its Aloft Hotels brand whereby guests can access streaming media via their own smartphones.

This is just the beginning, and we’ll certainly see more keyless room developments from hotel brands going forward.

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Tags: hilton, hyatt, intercontinental hotels group, keyless entry, marriott, spg, starwood

Photo credit: Starwood is expanding its SPG Keyless program to more of its brands. Starwood Hotels & Resorts

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